Hunt convinced Ireland can cause World Cup shock

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The Independent Football

Stephen Hunt has warned the World Cup play-off big guns that the Republic of Ireland are ready to claim a big scalp.

Giovanni Trapattoni's men may have to do exactly that for the first time since they effectively dumped Holland out of the same competition eight years ago if they are to reach next summer's finals in South Africa.

The unseeded Republic will face either France, Portugal, Russia or Greece in next month's play-offs, and there are differing opinions on just who they would prefer.

But whoever they get, midfielder Hunt is confident they can get through after coming within three minutes of a famous victory over world champions Italy on Saturday evening.

Asked if Ireland can beat a side of the stature of France or Portugal, the 28-year-old said: "Of course we can. I know we haven't beaten one in a while, but we definitely can.

"We should have beaten Italy on Saturday and we gave away a goal in the last minute, but we might learn from that.

"If we do score with three or four minutes to go, then we will definitely be sharper and more aware of what we have to do to win the game.

"We are unbeaten and after the last campaign, we would have snatched your hand off for that.

"We are confident. Whoever we get, it's going to be difficult. But hopefully we can come out going to the World Cup. That will be the difference between success and failure."

Ireland ended their Group Eight campaign with a whimper on Wednesday night when a much-changed side drew 0-0 with Montenegro at Croke Park.

It was their sixth draw of the campaign, to go with the four they earned against Italy and Bulgaria, with victories home and away against Cyprus and Georgia providing the bulk of their 18 points.

But now preparations will begin in earnest for next month's showdown with a huge prize at stake.

Ireland, like the other eight sides battling for the four remaining European tickets to the finals in the play-offs, will discover their fate on Monday when the draw is made in Zurich.

Assistant boss Marco Tardelli ventured the opinion earlier in the week that surprise 2004 European champions Greece might be the team to get, but Hunt admits all the possible options will be tough.

He said: "They are all quality teams, but Russia, you don't know what you are getting.

"Do they play on a plastic surface as well? I would rather avoid that, to be honest with you, because they are used to the surface and we are not.

"What kind of boots do you wear? It's a difficult one.

"Whoever we get will be difficult, but listen, we are looking forward to the play-offs."